Jeffrey LewisSt. Pete Ponders the CTBT?

I just completed an interview with Bruce Tartar—former Director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and chair of the AAAS panel of the Reliable Replacement Warhead—for a forthcoming issue of the Bulletin. You’ll have to wait for it to come out, but he mentioned something extremely interesting in passing.

Senator Pete Domenici (R-NM) recently sent a letter to Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, Secretary of State Condi Rice and National Advisor Steve Hadley complaining about lukewarm administration support for the RRW. (John Fleck had noted the letter and posted the full text on one of his many blogs.)

The interesting part is that St. Pete closed with this paragraph:

Finally, based on the success of the Stockpile Stewardship Program, we now have the confidence to design and manufacture RRW weapons that will be deployed without underground testing. In light of this reality, I would like to discuss with you how this could impact the Administration’s decision to revisit its position on the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and if you believe that such action would guarantee that countries like India, Pakistan and North Korea would sign on the Treaty and would encourage China, Iran, Indonesia and Egypt to follow the U.S. action to ratify the treaty.


When Domenici voted against the CTBT, he held out the possibility that “if my concerns about the overall strategic arms strategies and their relationship to CTBT can be alleviated, and if the potential for stockpile stewardship during the next decade can be realized, I will be able to vote for a CTBT in the future.” [Emphasis mine.]

Domenici —who may face a tougher than expected 2008 re-election campaign—was always the linchpin of the bipartisan compromise that would be necessary to secure ratification of the CTBT. “When Pete Domenici whistled, everybody jumped,” NRDC’s Chris Paine told Mother Jones in 1999. “The administration was trying to craft a bipartisan compromise on testing. They did that by giving Domenici everything he wanted on the SSP.”

Put another way, the Stockpile Stewardship Program was the central element of what the AAAS report describes as a “bargain”:

”[T]he nuclear weapons Laboratories … informed President Bill Clinton that it was likely they could maintain the stockpile in the SSP without nuclear testing, and he asked the Senate to approve the CTBT. In return, he agreed that a necessary condition for success was the vitality of the three weapons Laboratories, and he also put important safeguards into the language requesting Senate approval of the treaty.”

The question now is what sort of bipartisan bargain on nuclear testing and the future of the stockpile do we need today?

I put that question to Tartar, but you’ll have to wait to find out his answer.


  1. J (History)

    A well-placed colleague of mine has always maintained that the national labs are the key to future prospects for CTBT ratification—if they can make the assessment that the SSP has worked well and is sufficient to estabish confidence in the safety and reliability of the nuclear stockpile, then they could support ratification. We have now had over a decade’s worth of experience with stockpile stewardship and so we should see judgments emerging.

    Another interesting idea for a grand bargain: Congressional Dems signing off on RRW in exchange for an Administration commitment to support CTBT ratification.

    In all likelihood, this issue will have to await the next President, but it is not wholly unreasonable to envision the Senate taking up the CTBT again in 2010 or 2011.

  2. Benn Tannenbaum (History)

    Sez the AAAS RRW report staff guy: It would be better to link to the page about our report rather than the page about the release….

  3. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    As you wish, T-baum.

  4. Mark Gubrud

    Fool me once, fool me twice? I see a bid to sell RRW. We already paid with SSP. We didn’t get CTBT ratification then, why would we get it now, with new nuclear rumblings all over the world, and when RRW would create a more credible and politically potent case for doubts about reliability absent testing?

  5. Stephen Young (History)

    “we’ve never had a nuclear weapon enter the U.S. arsenal that hasn’t been tested” – actually, we have, dropping it on Hiroshima. (You are not alone on this mistake – we need to correct the UCS fact sheet on this point too, as pointed out to us by an AF Colonel!)

    but i think that’s the only instance. anyone? Buehler?

  6. yale (History)

    The W9 went into service in 1952. It was first tested in 1953.